Thom Yorke performing with some maracas in 2017 RAPH PH/ WIKIMEDIA COMMONS,

When Radiohead’s In Rainbows was first released in 2007, it was at the cutting edge of technological advancement. The band, unshackled from their contract with record company Parlophone for the first time, decided to release their seventh album in a pay-what-you-want digital format on their website. It’s in that same format that a rather more low-tech version of the classic album now graces our ears. Creator on4word’s In Rainbow Roads completely reworks all ten of the songs on In Rainbows to sound like they’re from the video game Super Mario 64.

“What better place to bring this unique sound to than a Radiohead album?”

Fans of Mario might be familiar with some of that game’s beloved tunes, from “Bob-omb Battlefield” to the famous slide music. But what’s often forgotten is the extreme limitations under which the soundtracks of games like Super Mario 64 had to operate. The N64, the console on which Super Mario 64 was released, had no dedicated sound chip, meaning that music and sound effects had to be handled directly by the Central Processing Unit, which already had a lot on its plate running cutting-edge 3D games.

In Rainbow Roads (Radiohead - In Rainbows / Mario 64 Soundfont)on4word

Thus, audio tracks that made it into video games of this period had to be heavily compressed, a compromise which could be masked somewhat by applying a lot of reverb. This meant games like Super Mario 64, despite their otherwise lighthearted presentations, had soundtracks which had a certain haunting, mystical feel to them, full of instrumentation which echoed strangely. What better place to bring this unique sound to than a Radiohead album?

on4word captures and brings across the echoes of the N64 masterfully in their reworking of In Rainbows. Tracks like “Nude” particularly capture the sense of the eerie with their compressed choral notes, while smart instrumental substitutes elsewhere bring out the best of the N64 SoundFont. The ever-popular “House of Cards”, for instance, has its understated guitar reworked into electric piano, producing an immersive, relaxing number.

Meanwhile, the album’s concluding song, “Videotape”, is a particular standout: piano is replaced with steel drums and bells to create a resonant piece which builds to a crescendo, much more than Radiohead’s original work ever does. Let’s not forget the black sheep of the album, either: “Faust Arp” makes use of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s SoundFont to create a track which captures the sense of fantasy of Radiohead’s original while still having its own distinctive feel.


Mountain View

Has video killed the Radio star?

This project has clearly been a labour of love for on4word, who has, in the past, produced N64 remixes of other songs by artists ranging from Radiohead to Aphex Twin and others. Little elements such as the sampling of Mario’s whoops and grunts in “15 Step” and “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” reveal an extreme attention to detail and respect of the source material. The effort and skill on display even demanded the acknowledgement of Radiohead’s lead guitarist and keyboardist Jonny Greenwood himself, who remarked on Twitter: “It’s a-me, Arpeggio!” - no doubt much to on4word’s delight. We need only to hope that Jonny shares this incredible project with his brother Colin, our very own Radiohead member who once attended the hallowed halls of Peterhouse.

Sometimes, the best pieces of art come about when old and new meet. This happened with the original In Rainbows, where Radiohead’s return to their older guitar-heavy sound met with exciting new methods of distribution and fan interaction. How fitting that the old should meet the new once again with In Rainbow Roads, a work which exploits the limitations of a console from the 1990s to create something altogether novel and exciting.